Who are your inspirations among nature writers and writers of place?
Henry David Thoreau, Ed Abbey, and Annie Dillard were some of my earliest influences. Also, Loren Eiseley and Aldo Leopold, both of whom were midwesterners who blended science and ethics and art in ways that are still a revelation to me—I admire writers who seem to live in the boundaries, as they did. Following the floods in 1993, I sought out conversations with contemporary grasslands nonfiction authors committed to living in the region they write about—Linda Hasselstrom, Dan O’Brien, William Least Heat-Moon, and Mary Swander—and those visits became part of my first book, Not Just Any Land: A Personal and Literary Journey into the American Grasslands. Their example helped guide me through an important stage of my life as a writer, when I was just considering the possibility of committing to place. Since becoming a father, I’ve been especially drawn to authors who are writing about nature and animals from within the context of family, work, and community. These include contemporary writers Wendell Berry, Scott Russell Sanders, and Tom Montgomery-Fate but also E. B. White, James Herriot, and Gerald Durrell. In Man Killed by Pheasant, I write from within a similarly personal context, exploring the ways nature has informed everything from the decision to get married to our efforts to have a baby to the ways I memorialize my grandfather.
Tell us about the tallgrass prairie reader you are editing. And your next book, Daddy Long Legs: The Natural Education of a Father.
I’m very excited about the anthology, which will gather literary nonfictional accounts of the tallgrass prairie, from early exploration narratives to contemporary nature writers. Some of the authors include George Catlin, Walt Whitman, Mary Swander, and Louise Erdrich. It will be the first anthology of its kind, presenting a portrait of how the tallgrass prairie has inspired the human imagination over several centuries. Daddy Long Legs is another nature memoir that continues the story of my life as a parent and about how nature has influenced and enriched that life. It is also about the death of my grandmother and about how nature provided my family with a way to understand and articulate the meaning of that loss—especially my children, who were very close to her.
Excerpt from "Man Killed by Pheasant" in Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships
So I'm driving east on Highway 30, from our new home in Belle Plaine to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It's a four-lane, and because I'm the eldest child, I'm driving the speed limit, around fifty-six, sixty miles per hour. I'm listening to Jimi Hendrix cry "Mary"—imagining, as usual, that I am Jimi Hendrix—when in the far distance I see some brown blobs hovering across the highway: one, then two. By the way they move, low and slow, I suspect they're young pheasants. As I near the place of their crossing I look over the empty passenger seat and into the grassy ditch to see if I can spot the whole clan. Suddenly, there is a peripheral darkness, the fast shadow of an eclipse, and something explodes against the side of my head in a fury of flapping and scratching and squawking. In an act of extraordinary timing, one of the straggling pheasants has flown in my driver's side window. And being the steel-jawed action hero I am, I scream, scream like a rabbit, and strike at it frantically with my left arm, the car swerving, wings snapping, Hendrix wailing, feathers beating at my face until, at last, I knock the thing back out the window and onto the read. I regain control of the car, if not myself, and pull over, undone.
John Price is the author of Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships